And still – in Oslo now, having moved on from Bergen – I feel a weird compulsion not to go outside so that I can avoid the prices. It’s like they’re airborne, like a communicable disease, and merely stepping out the door will infect me with overpriced lattes and that renewed surprise with which converting every price down to Australian dollars comes. Like the parking ticket we got on the first night outside our flat, for example: 500 KR = $AUD100. We knew that the parking was insane, here. In Bergen, we’d finally worked out Norwegian parking code: that blue sign with the red diagonal cross represented no parking from that sign, in the direction you are facing, to the parking zone times sign, or to the first crossroad. About as clear as the beach at Scheveningen after an oil spill. Except that it doesn’t mean that, clearly, because we got a parking ticket. If you’re in Europe, and parking, take time to study this. Our housemate for the week, Alberto, kindly showed us that the first place we parked, outside the flat, was outside the legal parking area. He then told us to park in the space that got us a ticket later on. Even he doesn’t get it. So I feel less bad about it. Right up until two minutes from now, when I will pay the fare online.
Alberto is an Italian national studying communication, a type of course that will let him open a cafe restaurant later on. Italy is three hours from Oslo (by plane, I guess). The proximity kind of goes towards understanding why he’s studying in the most expensive country in the world, which caused him to use the only swearword I’ve heard him use so far.
‘It’s f*#@ing so expensive,’ he said, leaning on the door next to his bedroom while we were having our ‘getting to know you’ chat on our arrival. ‘I’m sorry to use the word, but it is.’
Alberto is at work, now. I’ve often wondered what it says about our world, what positive, often ignored wonderful thing that our collective culture allows us to let strangers stay in our house alone in the middle of the day. I’m sitting in his house, and I met him two days ago. We’re nice people, and so is he, but the resources he has to check that that is the case are limited before our arrival. Airbnb has been a Godsend for us, and we have had only one bad experience. And that was just dirty and inconvenient, not terribly unsafe. Anyway: Airbnb. Just saying. Try it.
I’ll tell you about getting here – from Bergen to Oslo – because that’s the best bit. But for context, I think the drive took something out of us. It’s almost eleven in the morning, and lovely darling kitten cute face husband is asleep, and grumpy. The travelling caught up with him yesterday, and we even had a nap in the daytime. That doesn’t happen. It all started when the Bergen boys came over to the Bergen flat. In Norway – and I might have told you this, I can’t remember – young people don’t go out to the pub for happy hour. Happy hour doesn’t exist here (although, Skins told us of rumours he had heard about a happy hour, somewhere, I think, possibly with VB). Beer is expensive, so you buy at the supermarket and do all your drinking at home before you go out. So Nick, Skins, Oyster, Erik and the others came over and drank with us until 1:30am. Then Andy went out with them until 5am. I stayed at home, but the flat next door really kept it up into the wee hours. Long story short, we were both flatter than pancakes, and I had my 10k run in the morning. Kicked it’s arse: took 5 minutes off my time. Andy got a second wind in the afternoon and ran up Mt Floyen, which also kicked a lot of arse. The next day we were to drive to Oslo to watch the football.
The drive is seven hours. So that’s significant enough. But we weren’t expecting… what we got.
Most of the first part is tunnels. At a certain point, it must get more cost effective to build a tunnel than lay a road. I imagine that point is when the road rises at, say, at a 90 degree angle. They really care for their tunnels, in Norway – each of them has a name, and a sign telling you how long it is. Such as, for example, tunnel Tosen, which is 5,857 metres long. Or another one, which might be 120 metres long. The speed limit rarely if ever exceeds 80k/h in Norway, at least around and between Bergen and Oslo, and for the most part it is 70k/h. This seems to be because driving in Norway is like having a state sanctioned epileptic in a large blunt object. The road may have been planned by placing a piece of elastic from one place to another, which at some point snapped and became kinkier than a cut snake. Not for no reason – Norway is a series of large rocks strewn through the North Sean with houses on them and bridges in-between. At many points, going through the rock is just easier. They want to tell you how long the tunnels are because without some sort of context, you start to think you’re never getting out. One 100m tunnel will end and 50m later, there is another, and another. I put a ban on Andy announcing me how long each tunnel was, unless it was over 4 kilometres. He didn’t have to stay quiet long.
The tunnels are of course two-way, which is difficult to get used to. Driving in Europe, for Bec, is like a progressive set of life challenges meant to boost your ability to cope in the world. It’s like army training. ‘Hey – you think that’s driving? You weasley midget! Take everything you know – NOW REVERSE IT! Do everything the opposite, you maggot! The machinery will be on the opposite side! Used to that?! NOW GO BACK TO LONDON! NOW CHANGE BACK! Just see how your brain handles that, you weasel. Now, do that in the dark, with speeding cars coming at you! Now swerve all over the countryside in the rain! Now go up, using only second gear! Now go down! Faster!’
Anyway, it must be pretty obvious that that’s how I see most of my life. A drill sergeant yelling at me.
Norway is the most intimidating, spectacular country to drive through. This was not a drive – it was like the equivalent of an action movie in a car trip.
From Bergen city towards the mountains, are the tunnels. It was raining the day we drove, so everything was slightly more challenging. There are no straight stretches in Norway. Straight away, you start to rise. First, the mountains are dark green, covered with conifers, with rock peeking through. Fog is everywhere, just resting on the flats and rising to into the air. There is no distinguishing the rain clouds from the fog; it’s all the same. Then, you start to see the mountains get closer. Not mountains that you’re heading towards, but the ones to your left and right. They’re so close, you could almost touch them. You slide through the tunnels, the sides of which look like they have been chiselled out, and they probably have. You exit a tunnel to bright light, and another mountain smashes you in the face. It’s right there.
After a while, you stop calling them mountains, because mountains are made of dirt and soft things, familiar to the eye. These things are pieces of rock thousands of years old, put here by God and stopped there forever. It’s raining, and as you approach the next monolith, the size of two Eureka towers (or, say 200 floors high), rivers of water course down the sides, for a while looking like veins of quartz running down the rock, or like sticks of lightening. It crashes down the mountain and into the sea, sometimes right on the edge of the road, into a series of under-road tunnels and into the fjords.
Then the mountains get animal. Instead of rock, they are giant things that seem to be made of cold, purple flesh. I can see how the stories of trolls came to be – these things look like felled monsters that could emerge at any time, and stand up to full height, crushing you with a fist. This terrain isn’t just challenging – it’s terrifying. It’s confronting. Every muscle in your body is alert – worse when the road seems like a surface of polished glass because of the rain – and every sense is being harassed, at every moment. This sort of terrain shouldn’t exist for people to exist within. It’s too extreme.
It’s the most terrifyingly beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
We stopped at a road stop to go to the toilet. There was a 100 storey cliff face staring at the ladies room door.
On the top of the mountain, above the tree line, the terrain is flat, but hilly. I’d breathe a sigh of relief, but the roads twist and turn, with no verge, the sides plunging down fifty metres to dirt and rock. I follow what looks like an ice-cream truck, for safety, and what feels like solidarity. It’s comforting to see the back of the same truck the whole time. Even if it’s only happening at 70k/h, this is pretty real. You’ve got to have a friend up here.
On the other side, Norway is a different country. Where Bergen was grey and charming, the Oslo side feels like a real city, grounded in some sort of reality. There are farms. There is wheat, and yellow fields. The lakes that emerge from the torrents of water are clear, and calm. And vast. The pines are clean and fresh – this country reminds me of what America looks like in movies. This is also bear country. You can tell, because the big road stop with the McDonald’s has a fifty foot, plastic, rampant bear in the middle of the car park, and another in the middle of the roundabout with teeth like crimping scissors.
At McDonald’s, a Big Mac costs 50KR. That’s ten Aussie dollars. There has never been a better time for me to completely bypass buying junk food.
At the supermarket, later in Oslo, the deli attendant helps me find the Ricotta, and we chat about Australia.
‘Aren’t there lots of snakes and spiders in Australia?’ he asks, almost laughing.
‘Not if you don’t spend a long time in an outback toilet in the summer,’ I say. ‘And they’re kind of shy.’
‘We are famous for having the most expensive hamburger, here,’ he says, and I can’t tell if he’s ashamed, or proud. I can believe him.
(These images insert at a different size from my phone than they do my PC, and I can’t be bothered right now to change that.)
This was the only proper coffee I had in Norway. I cherished it. And a cinnamon bun that would knock your socks off.
Us being sweaty. Knocked 5 minutes off my 10k time (smashed it). Andrew after he ran up Floyen.
Trolls. Everywhere up Mt Floyen there are trolls. I think this one, from what we could make of the sign, is a witch who eats Christian men. Moving right along.
The view from the lookout at the top of Mt Floyen. This is also the mountain that Andrew ran up a couple of days later. After a big night out.
The tram that pulls you up the mountain. We used it to go down.
Parking spot. Parking spot. Around corner. Ocean liner.